Friday, September 24, 2010

Monarch butterflies

Click on the photo to see the empty chrysalis next to the hind feet

I don't have much luck with monarchs. Not because I don't have the right plants, and not because adult females don't lay eggs on those plants, but because damn great nonnative bufo toads (Bufo marinus) sit under them and feast on the growing caterpillars. So, when I found a solitary large caterpillar on a milkweed, with a toad waiting underneath, I took action.

I've never raised a butterfly in captivity before, and it turned out to be a successful endeavor. The caterpillar turned into a chrysalis two days later and about nine days after that, a beautiful, and good sized, monarch emerged. After being released, it spent a few hours flexing its wings before finally disappearing, and, ideally, getting ready to produce another generation.

The newly released monarch gathering strength
Nearly ready to fly away

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I'm certified!

Hooray! The sign says it all. Note the gold label, which is the higher of the two classifications. (It's not difficult to qualify if you're an environmentally aware gardener.) 

The extension office in most Florida counties participates in the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program.

My next goal is to have the garden certified as a Florida Backyard Wildlife Habitat, which is more complicated since there are forms to complete, a property survey -- with bird feeders, native trees, shrubs, and the like, all marked out -- to submit. Plus it will cost a whopping $5 for the sign.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fall migration

Credit: Mark Jones, Painted Bunting Observation Team
Realizing that the migration must be well under way, and also being located under a major flyway, I Googled for information about what I could expect to see at my feeders.

I came across the website of the North Carolina based Painted Buntings Observer Team. It's latest blog entry, dated Aug. 31, said that the buntings had already been spotted in north Florida, which is quite a bit earlier than usual. (The redstarts appeared in my garden in August, which is also way earlier than usual; I wonder what they know that we don't?) Anyway, it means that painted buntings should be arriving in South Florida any day, if they're not already here. Time to make sure there's plenty of white millet in the feeders.

(For those who are not familiar with it, the painted bunting, Passerina ciris, is one of the continent's most colorful birds.)

I'd also read somewhere that migrating birds show up on radar, so I asked a friend, a meteorologist at the Miami National Weather Service office, if the NWS ever tracked migrations. His answer was no, however he did say:

"... the Doppler Radar imagery right around sunrise can give you an idea if there's an increase in bird population. There is usually a small ring or circle that expands outward in the area of the Everglades which occurs for about 10-20 minutes in the early morning. If you play a movie or loop of the base reflectivity radar imagery, you'll probably see it."
I got up too late this morning to catch it, but if you are an early bird, pardon the pun, please let me know if you see anything. Don't forget to hit the "refresh" button on the lower right.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

An unwelcome visitor, or the very hungry catarpillars

Credit: Wikipedia, Bugboy52.40
It's odd how attitudes will change. I spend a lot of time in the garden encouraging butterflies to visit and to lay eggs, but when an unwanted one arrives, I'm furious!

In this case, it's the oleander -- or polka dot -- moth (Syntomeida epilais) that's got my dander up. How dare it (they) lay eggs all over my Adeniums!

The harmless caterpillar looks a lot like that of the gulf fritillary, and the moth itself, which is actually rather beautiful, gets its name because, well, it likes oleanders. I no longer have oleanders, which are in the Apocynaceae family, along with Adeniums and my Mandevilla splendens that the caterpillars have also eaten back to the stems.

Since I do my best to stick to a no-kill policy, and because I do encourage wildlife to visit, this presents a dilemma, especially with at least eight much prized desert rose plants.

So, early in the week I went to a fabric shop and bought several yards of white nylon netting, the kind of material used for the underskirt of a wedding gown. The photo illustrates the first attempt of wrapping up a plant after picking off any caterpillars.

Fingers crossed this will do the trick. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A visit to a native plant nursery

Native blanketflower, Gaillardia pulchella,
I'm planning a little guerrilla gardening on a tiny, tiny plot of city-owned land by my house, so over the weekend I went to Casey's Corner, a native plant nursery, near Homestead (Ground Zero in Hurricane Andrew). As would be expected, there were butterflies everywhere. It was glorious!

Susan, the owner, specializes in butterfly garden installation. (She provided the plant material for the Smithsonian's Butterfly Pavilion.) She told me that one of her clients called to say the garden was a disaster because caterpillars were eating everything! After wondering how someone could be so clueless, I moved on to wondering how it's possible that someone was never taught that caterpillars become butterflies.

Anyway, I spent more money than I intended and have decided that most of the plants are going to stay in my garden. It just goes to show how selfish I am.

Disguising itself as bird poop, the caterpillar of the giant swallowtail languishes on top of a leaf
A gulf fritillary caterpillar feeding on a corky stem vine (Passiflora suberosa)
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

This sunflower is remarkably similar to tickseed; I have trouble telling them apart

I think this one is the Helianthus

Butterflies, including queens and white peacocks, were all over these shrubs
One of the numerous white peacocks
I'm amazed that anyone would pay for this; I keep pulling it out of the lawn!
Rows of (mostly) native plants, with blanketflower in the forefront
Storm clouds roll in; it's time to leave